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Graduating student Janna Shepherd hones communication, leadership skills for reptile rescue

Janna Shepherd holds one a rescued albino burmese python that lives at the Reptile Rescue Center.

Janna Shepherd has run the only nonprofit reptile rescue center in the state of Arkansas since 2009. 

The Reptile Rescue Center, located just south of Little Rock, has a three-part mission: to rescue surrendered, injured, and abused reptiles; to rehabilitate rescued reptiles; and to educate the public about reptiles in captivity and in the wild.

In 2010, Shepherd decided to finish her college education to learn more about the skills necessary to run a nonprofit organization.

The Nonprofit Leadership Studies program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock initially attracted Shepherd to the university, since it was the only program in the state she could find that catered to the nonprofit management education she was looking for.

While ultimately minoring in nonprofit leadership studies, Shepherd was inspired by a professor to complete a bachelor’s degree in speech communication as well.

“When I took advanced public speaking with Dr. Kristen McIntyre, she told me that speech communication would be useful for every aspect of running my nonprofit,” Shepherd said.

While at UALR, Shepherd learned the skills necessary to manage a nonprofit organization, including financial management, fundraising, and volunteer management, through the Nonprofit Leadership Studies program. In turn, through her speech communication coursework, she learned how valuable communication skills are in the day-to-day running of the Reptile Rescue Center.

“It’s important to communicate effectively to manage volunteers and staff and to deal with the public as clients and in the education programs that we put on,” she said.

Shepherd’s professor, Dr. McIntyre, associate professor of applied communication, described Shepherd as a model of professionalism, who was the first student to win the Department of Applied Communication’s Making a Difference Award in 2013.

“I think when Janna decided to earn her college degree, that was it. She knew why she was in college and what she wanted to achieve,” McIntyre said. “She came to class on time and prepared. She turned in outstanding work. She supported her classmates, and she spoke passionately about the Reptile Rescue Center.”

Living a life dedicated to animals

Shepherd is no stranger to working with animals. The 32-year-old has previously worked as an assistant manager at Pet Country in Conway and as a volunteer docent and animal caretaker at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, the Museum of Discovery, and the Little Rock Zoo.

She has also volunteered for many years at Hearts and Hooves in Sherwood, and more recently at Harmony in Hooves in Benton, where she led therapeutic riding lessons, cared for horses, and maintained rider, therapist, and volunteer safety. The former volunteer firefighter is also an accomplished equestrian and competes at shows with the Arkansas Hunter Jumper Association.  

Shepherd owns several rescue dogs, a cat, and a horse, but decided to turn her attention to a neglected area of animal rescue.

“There are plenty of cat and dog rescues, but there were no reptile rescues in the state,” she said. “That’s where the need was, and I had the experience to do it.”

The Reptile Rescue Center is now a sanctuary for more than 130 reptiles, representing 30 different species.

In the upper right photo, Janna Shepherd holds one a rescued albino burmese python that lives at the Reptile Rescue Center. Photo by Lonnie Timmons III/UALR Communications.